Well, it’s finally happened. Trevor Lawrence is Clemson’s starting Quarterback. Kelly Bryant did a more than admirable job at the helm for the Tigers, but ultimately the coaches knew that the team’s ceiling was the highest while run by the true Freshman. The change on the depth chart signals a new era in Clemson, and shows Dabo and co are taking a proactive approach to the talented Freshman’s development.
But the changes are evident in more ways than just the depth chart. The offense as a whole will be better, and perhaps just as importantly, more explosive. There will be distinct changes in the approach Clemson takes when they attack defenses, and will now be able to stress schemes in ways they haven’t been able to since Deshaun Watson in 2016.
Vertical Passing Game
The first way in which Trevor Lawrence’s insertion into the starting lineup can improve production is in the vertical passing game. In order for Clemson’s offense to function at full capacity, they have to be able to stretch the field with deep passes, particularly to tall boundary receivers such as Mike Williams and Tee Higgins.
Last season, and for portions of this season, Clemson struggled to throw the ball deep down the field. Kelly Bryant could sometimes complete this throw, but often it was not accurate, or the pass had too much air. Against Alabama this deficiency was on full display, and showed that in order to win a national championship Clemson would have to once again be able to complete shots down the field. Alabama loaded the box, and made life for Kelly and his OL a living hell that night.
With the improvement of the vertical passing game, one can expect to see a few things. You’ll be able to see an obvious increase in explosive passing plays. In just one game where he didn’t even receive all of the playing time, Lawrence posted 9 explosive plays on 35 snaps. Explosiveness was a major issue for Clemson last season, and as the image below indicates there were not enough chunk plays on offense.
You can expect the coaches to take more deep shots down the field to soften the defense up. This will keep the defense honest, and simultaneously assist an Offensive line that is still gelling together.
Increase in Rushing Yards
Speaking of the run game, it is another facet of Clemson’s offense that will now improve. Although Trevor will not be taking many snaps that require him to carry the ball, that does not mean Clemson’s rushing attack will be any less prolific. Adding a deep passing game that keeps the Safeties or even Linebackers away from the line of scrimmage can help Running backs break big plays, and also ease the blocking burden on the Offensive Line.
Last season, the majority of explosive plays came from Travis Etienne’s time on the field. If you take Etienne out of the offense, the point totals and yardage against solid front 7s are not pretty. Opening up the run game will go an incredibly long way in getting Etienne and others the carries they need to be able to take over a game.
Having an elite running game that can consistently bust plays would be a huge weapon to add to an offense already brimming with potential. The idea of giving speedy backs like Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster more space to work with is a terrifying thought for defensive coordinators everywhere, and gives Clemson a new option to attack defenses with.
Although the Offensive Line has not necessarily lived up to potential yet, there is still so much talent in that position group. Taking away some of their burden can yield huge results in terms of rushing production, and put Clemson’s athletes in the best positions to make plays.
Explosive play rates through 4 games. pic.twitter.com/jww5m6hZqy— Seldom Used Reserve (@seldomusedrsrv) September 26, 2018
Throws to Tight Ends/Throws down the Middle
It might not have really been Kelly’s fault last season that the Tight End was rarely used, but he still rarely threw the ball over the middle of the field as it was. When Garrett Williams went down with an injury early last year, Clemson lost not only it’s best blocker at the position, but also someone who could provide at least a little bit of relief in the passing game.
This season the Tigers return not only Garrett Williams, but also the TE who played in his absence in Milan Richard, and high-upside Freshman Braden Galloway. While Richard did not provide much on offense last season, he is still someone who can contribute. At the same time, Braden Galloway looks like a star in the making, and the coaches would be wise to continue giving him snaps throughout the season. Most thought he was headed for a redshirt season when he first committed, but now Galloway has earned time on the field in just his first year.
In order to the throw to the TE, one almost always has to throw over the field. Yes, Kelly has improved his throws into this area, but it is still not what the coaches are ultimately looking for. Trevor Lawrence has no problem throwing over the middle, however, and has shown that willingness already in his short time on campus.
Being able to throw to a TE can add an underrated layer to an offense. Jordan Leggett made many big catches in his final season at Clemson, including many during crunch time of important games. With Lawrence now leading the offense one can expect the playbook to be opened up more, and increase the possibility of having throws to all areas of the field. Having an effective TE could potentially go a long way in defeating the elite defenses Clemson will most certainly face in the future.
Kelly Bryant gave the QB job at Clemson his everything. He led the Tigers all the way to the CFB Semi-Final even when no-one expected him to do so. It’s not an issue of what Kelly did to lose his job, but more down to what Trevor did to win it. Trevor Lawrence at the helm of the offense just makes it so much more effective and explosive. Clemson could win every game on its current schedule with Kelly throwing the ball. However, the Tiger’s are most interested in their chances to win another championship and rightfully so. Bryant has handled this situation better than anyone could’ve expected, but the Trevor Lawrence era has now officially begun.